BOOKS / STORIES / WRITING
Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss — I finally read this novel! I have been enamored with Nicole Krauss for almost six years now, but I kept putting off reading her first novel, mostly because I didn’t want to read everything by her and then have nothing to look forward to. I was surprised by this book because it felt so stylistically different than The History of Love and Great House. Sure there are themes and unmistakable Kraussian (yes, I said that!) prose that overlap with her other novels, but this one doesn’t have quite the same ambition and intimacy as the other novels. I still enjoyed it immensely and loved Krauss’ use of a prologue and afterword. These bookends really made the book for me and are where you can see her inching towards employing the use of multiple voices, stories, and time frames like she does in her later novels. Ultimately this is a completely rereadable and fascinating novel about loss, memory, and selfhood.
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti — I don’t even know what to say. I was so enthralled, repulsed, and dumbstruck by this book. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again because it feels like there’s something rare and valuable buried in this book that I can only get a bit of with each reading. I’ve been wondering how I’d respond to this novel if I wasn’t currently in my 20s (like the narrator) with artistic longings and questions. Maybe it would only be repulsive for me rather than enthralling? No matter, I read it at the perfect time and laughed so hard at certain points I almost cried. Highly recommended! Also, the Slate Audio Book Club has a really interesting conversation about this novel that’s totally worth checking out.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen — This is probably my least to second least favorite of Austen’s novels (I absolutely detested Emma for some reason in 2007 or 2008 although I can’t remember why now). Ultimately, I’m glad I stuck it out and finished listening to the audiobook because Austen is a master of endings in my very humble opinion, although I won’t be revisiting this one anytime soon. However! I’m definitely going to watch the film soon because I love Ang Lee and Emma Thompson is a British treasure.
"The Chaperone" by Ottessa Moshfegh in Guernica — Ottessa Moshfegh is my favorite short story writer publishing right now. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by her so far and am completely in awe of her range after reading this dense, lyrical story. I could read it again and again and at once be repulsed and moved to a higher plane of consciousness! (Clearly I think she’s an incredible stylist.) Seriously check out her work if you haven’t already and keep an eye out for her novel coming out this year with FENCE books.
"Lorrie Moore, The Art of Fiction No. 167" in The Paris Review — This woman! Lorrie Moore solidified my desire to be a short story writer as soon as I read her freshman year of college (as I’m sure is the case for many 18 and 19-year-old women). I’m so intrigued by her process and her almost militant attention to the construction and meaning of her prose. I’m really looking forward to making some time to read her new collection, BARK, that just came out (the first in 16 years!)
Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson — I was completely surprised by how much I loved this film! Anderson’s story within a story within a story (did I mentioned enough stories?) was jarring in a totally thoughtful and fun way. I also cannot get over how startlingly talented Ralph Fiennes is. Without his performance, I can’t even imagine what this film would look like. Really looking forward to seeing this one again and am happy to say I’m back on the Anderson train after several years of ambivalence.
Short Term 12 by Destin Daniel Cretton — This is a remarkably sweet, well-produced first feature. I was mostly interested in it because I have a huge crush on John Gallagher, Jr. but I’m happy it ended up being a worthwhile watch. I’d recommend this for any fellow JGJ fans who like funny, smart films about real characters. Brie Larson’s performance is also one to behold.
Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont — M and I caught this film last minute on a Sunday night and he was shocked that I’d never seen it. It’s a pretty classic, Hollywood film that feels slightly cheap in some parts, but overall I was completely captivated by the performances and the crude humor. Also, any gruesome story that ends up being redemptive (har har) usually leaves me a mushy mess, so Darabont got me on this one.
Inequality for All by Robert Reich — Essential watching. Robert Reich is such a force! I also love that he’s capable of providing levity in this doc while conveying some incredibly disturbing information about the current economic disparity in the US. How this man can be hopeful despite the facts is truly uplifting.
GIRLS, end of season three — The last two episodes of this season totally redeemed what felt incredibly lackluster to me about the rest of the season. How the implied parting of Adam and Hannah due to their creative desires was handled was really striking, funny, and also painful to watch. I was a little taken aback by Hannah’s sudden acceptance into Iowa because, I mean, really? This was the only element of the last episode that seemed like a stretch considering we only have a cursory understanding of Hannah’s relationship to writing and the writing itself.
Also, I find it troublesome that so much more time is spent on Adam’s creative aspirations. In season one he is constantly building something and in seasons two and three, his commitment to acting itself is apparent, not necessarily the success tied to it, while Hannah is totally preoccupied with the status and accolades that could potentially come from being a published writer (am I getting this wrong?) We rarely, if ever, see her writing or talking about what she’s working on—the focus stays fixed on publication and what that could reap for her. Still, I totally loved and cringed at her reactions to the other “writers” she finds herself working with at her first stable, high paying, yet ultimately soul-sucking job.
I have no idea where season four will go and I’m pretty stoked about that.
True Detective, last episode — This podcast says it all. I have to admit, I got a little teary-eyed by the end, despite the extravagance of most of this last episode.
Ugly Betty, seasons one-four — I started rewatching this show in March because I needed something on in the background while working on hours of mind-numbing work in the evenings. I forgot just how much I adore this show. It’s so amazingly campy, sweet, and ultimately inspirational in a variety of ways. This show makes melodrama look good and I would geek out if an Ugly Betty Goes to London movie was in the works.
House of Cards, season two — This show has gotten way too cruel for me to find it enjoyable anymore. I only have two more episodes to go in season two, but I’m not sure I can handle anymore sociopathic behavior without losing my mind. (Who am I kidding? I’m totally going to finish it because I hate loose ends, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.)
It feels important that I read Anagrams in January. For me, seasonal-affective and hyper aware of holidays’ end, it was a month to contemplate possible lives. The month in retrospect feels made entirely of my commute to and from work. Something about that public transit experience—the tender walls each person made, the silence of a D.C. Metro car filled entirely with 9-to-5ers, the quiet cracking of ice under a thin film of snow. All the gray skies.
This is one of my favorites by Lorrie Moore. If you haven’t read it, you really should for #readwomen2014.
Stories mimic life like certain insects mimic leaves and twigs. Stories are about all the things that might’ve, could’ve, or would’ve happened, encrowded around and giving density and shape to undeniable physical events and phenomena. They are the rich, unseen underlayer of the most ordinary moments.
The Beaches of Agnes by Agnes Varda — This is one of the most beautiful documentaries I’ve ever seen. I was so touched and inspired by the manner in which Agnes Varda shares her life story. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to watch it again. Varda tells stories in a way that feels truly her own and deeply genuine. The small stillnesses she allows for in this film are what I remember most.
The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda — I wasn’t quite as moved by this film as The Beaches of Agnes, but it still had the same captivating and personal feel. Watching Varda’s films is so liberating! This is a woman whose constitution seems based on doing what she wants and making what she wants when she wants and I can’t get enough of that.
True Detective, Season 1, created by Niz Pizzolatto — MAN is this show controversial! I feel like I’m one of the few who doesn’t agree with the negative depiction of women in this show. To be completely honest, I’ve been a bit surprised by this as I’m usually particularly sensitive to the portrayal of women in books and films. BUT the female characters seem accurate to me here. I don’t know if it’s because of my own personal experience as a child in the 90s, or my understanding of the south at that time, but Maggy actually seems like a highly strong-willed and fiercely independent woman. If I’m totally honest, I wish there was more of her, but I also accept the fact that the two leads of this show are white males who are often highly misogynistic and small-minded. I love this show because it’s so darkly comic, the performances are spot-on, and Pizzolatto makes an old framing device feel new again. Structurally, I think there’s a lot to learn from this show and I think it’s going to be one-hundred-percent rewatchable. I am going to pretend like I haven’t already watched the last few episodes so I can write about that next month (#spoilers).
GIRLS, Season 3, created by Lena Dunham — I haven’t been able to get into this season quite as much. I’m still drawn to these characters’ particularities and am curious about what ultimately happens to them, but at this point, I’m kind of over Hannah and her whole shtick. Does anyone else feel this way? I haven’t been able to fully figure out why my feelings have dwindled. I just don’t feel as connected to the premise or the emotional lives of the characters as I did in Seasons 1 and 2. I’m curious to see how the rest of this season unfolds and if my perspective is altered.
Call the Midwife created by Heidi Thomas, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth — I seriously don’t even know what to say. I became obsessed with this show and its portrayal of female companionship and the terrible truths and beauty of 1950s East End London. I’m really looking forward to delving into Jennifer Worth’s memoirs someday.
Dexter, Seasons 7 & 8 — Okay, this show is pure indulgence. It jumped the shark so long ago, but I couldn’t get enough. The relationship between Dexter and Deb, and how complicated it ultimately becomes, is what kept me grounded and dedicated to seeing how it would all unfold. I’ve had so many conversations with people about this show and they either love it or hate it. I don’t know if I just can’t get enough of vigilante tales or Michael C. Hall. Either way, the show did something right. By the final episode I was a mess, completely wrapped up in the emotional complexity of these characters and lost in the fictional dream. I don’t really have any interest in rewatching this series, but it was fun while it lasted.
Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger — I can’t stop reading enough articles about the new research that’s coming out about gut health and its affect on the rest of the body. It’s so freaky and interesting and makes me want to move to the desert and live on smoothies. Needless to say, I was really into the science presented in this book. Also, the smoothie recipes are REALLY GOOD.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen — I’m listening to this book and it’s taking FOREVER. I hate to admit my apathy and lack of interest because I truly love Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. I wasn’t so hot on Emma and I haven’t yet read Mansfield Park, so I was hoping this would be a gem. Am I missing something? I’ve wondered if it’s because I’m listening to it instead of reading it. Maybe I just can’t connect with Austen in an auditory way. I’m going to finish this book because I’m determined to, but I’m bummed that I’m not enraptured. I would love to hear some opinions here. I want to know what people love about this novel!
My New York Diary by Julie Doucet — I love Julie Doucet’s drawing style, but I was super distracted by the lackluster dialogue in these stories. I also found myself wishing for more of a story arc and a moment or two where Doucet would make some real sense out of the situations she found herself in. I would have been more captivated by these stories if they were nothing but Doucet’s incredible drawings.
"A Chance Meeting" by Willa Cather in the Norton Book of Personal Essays — This was an interesting and melancholy read about Cather’s chance meeting with Gustave Flaubert’s aged niece in Aix-les-Bains. I loved being transported to that place and also feeling the dismay Cather must have felt upon discovering this old woman was related to one of her favorite writers. I haven’t read any of Cather’s other work and this essay certainly made me more interested in her.